Missing Priest Allegedly Slain by ‘Troubled Man He Was Just Trying to Help’

iStock/Thinkstock(ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla.) -- The 71-year-old Florida priest reported missing over a week ago is believed to have been slain in Georgia by a "troubled man he was just trying to help," according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office in Florida.

The Rev. Rene Robert, a Roman Catholic priest for the Diocese of St. Augustine, "did a lot of jail and ministry work" and had recently traveled to Jacksonville, Florida, to meet with Steven James Murray, according to Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan of the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

Robert was reported missing April 12, and Murray was identified the next day as a person of interest in his disappearance, Mulligan told ABC News Thursday.

"Based on interviews and whatnot, it appears Murray was a troubled man he was just trying to help as part of his ministry work," Mulligan said. "But it looks like Murray overtook the priest's car, drove him to Georgia and murdered him."

Murray, 28, was apprehended last Thursday in a wooded area in Aiken, South Carolina, after officials in the area received a "credible tip" he had traveled there, according to Capt. Eric Abdullah, public information officer for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina.

Murray was found driving the priest's blue Toyota and led law enforcement on a brief pursuit before he crashed and was arrested, Abdullah told ABC News Thursday. Murray was then extradited back to Florida, where officials had been looking for him, he added.

Murray directed authorities from Florida to Georgia Monday and showed them the location of Robert's dead body in "an isolated, wooded area" in Waynesboro, Georgia, according to Scott Dutton, director of public affairs for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

Though an autopsy performed Wednesday indicated "the manner of death was homicide and cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds," the condition of Robert's body was so bad that it was only positively identified as the priest's Thursday after dental records sent from Florida showed a match, Dutton told ABC News Thursday.

Murray was charged with the murder of Robert on Wednesday, when Murray also had his first appearance at Burke County Superior Court and was denied bond, Dutton said.

"If anybody really loves Father Rene, they'll forgive me because he was a man of God and forgiveness is forgiveness," Murray told reporters on video. "I have mental problems, and I lost control of myself, and I apologize."

Murray has not yet entered a plea, and it was not immediately clear whether he had obtained an attorney as of this morning, according to Augusta Judicial Circuit trial court administrator Shaun Brooks.

Murray's next appearance will likely be scheduled in a few weeks, Brooks told ABC News.

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